We’re in the process of rolling out an important change to our platform: The previous Gender field will be replaced with Sex and, optionally, Gender Identity. This is much more than a technical change. It is in keeping with current social and scientific understanding of gender identity, and it is supportive of clients and clinicians of all genders.
Gender identity is different from both sex and gender, and it’s important for mental health professionals to understand the differences to respect and affirm clients’ right to their own identity.
Sex and gender
Sex refers to one’s biological degree of maleness or femaleness, determined by chromosomes at birth. Even biologically, not everyone fits neatly into “male” and “female,” as various genetic conditions are sometimes grouped together under “intersex.”
Gender refers to the socially-constructed category assigned to a child, typically by their parents at or around the time of birth. When we talk about whether someone is behaving in a way that their culture would expect for their gender, we talk about gender roles.
Of course, these definitions are at best useful summaries. The best ways to define sex and gender in a manner inclusive and respectful of all people remains an area of robust scientific and political debate, as it should. Those debates help move our social understanding forward.
Gender identity is different from both sex and gender. It refers to someone’s internal experience of their gender. Recent years have seen an abundance of language surrounding gender identity, with descriptors like genderqueer, gender non-conforming, gender-neutral, gender-fluid, and others seeing increasing use. (The APA produced a useful list of related definitions.)
Allowing clients to indicate their gender identity and appropriate pronouns supports their health and well-being. Those who experience their gender outside of the male/female binary often describe their own identity with changing terms over time, and are likely to appreciate therapists who respect and affirm that process.
Getting it right
When clients can select the pronouns we should use with them, it eliminates the possibility of imposing an incorrect identity onto them. It isn’t simply distressing when a client is mistakenly referred to with the wrong pronouns; it makes the client less likely to come back, and may even create a safety risk.
With all of this in mind, clients can now select their own pronouns. Note that these are not “preferred pronouns” — they’re just pronouns. This is similar to the move away from “sexual preference” years ago. Sexual orientation and gender identity are not simply preferences, they are elements of personhood. Framing them as preferences diminishes their nature and importance.
For clients who experience themselves as outside of the mainstream in any element of their identity, therapists can be most helpful when we honor the individual for who they are, actively affirming their sense of self. This change to our platform is one way we can help you and your practice do exactly that.
For insight into how it will appear within SimplePractice, check out this Help Center guide.